Participation, Agency and Gender: The Impacts of Participatory Video Practices on Young Women in India

Singh, Namita (2014). Participation, Agency and Gender: The Impacts of Participatory Video Practices on Young Women in India. PhD thesis The Open University.



The use of Participatory Video (PV) in development projects with marginalised communities by Non-government organisations is increasing. Though PV practice has expanded, there has been limited academic discussion and debate on the subject. PV is often assumed to be a non-problematic process that enables less powerful groups to gain power and participate in social change processes. This research contributes to the emerging academic debates by critically investigating how participating in a long-term PV project can provide participants the opportunity to gain agency and to engage with local social change in a sustained manner. It studies projects by two NGOs in Hyderabad and Mumbai, which work with young women participants, using gender as a lens to examine the role of power relations within the projects.

This thesis draws on three key concepts: (i) participation, (ii) agency and (iii) gender norms. Using the conceptualisation of agency in the Capability Approach, it focuses on the various aspects of a long-term PV project that can either promote or restrict young women’s agency. The methods of collecting data were interviews, group discussions, participatory observation and participatory video-making with the research participants. The analysis of the data was carried out using a framework which maps the relationships between the various phases of a long-term PV project and the participants’ agency. Based on the findings of the analysis, this thesis argues that oppressive gender power relations within their household and the community, and hierarchy within a supposedly participatory project are critical influences on young women’s ability to become agents of change. In particular, the thesis draws attention to: (i) participants’ need to continuously negotiate power with the household and community members, (ii) inherent hierarchy and the nature of participation in a long-term PV project, (iii) the relation between participants’ need to access resources and hierarchy within a project, and (iv) the difference in needs, goals and impacts identified by donors/NGOs and the participants. The thesis proposes a conceptual model of participatory video as an agency-development process, which shows how these factors are crucial in developing and sustaining participants’ agency.

This thesis builds new knowledge by providing an in-depth understanding of power relations in long-term PV projects and what impacts agency - areas which are often overlooked in the literature on PV.

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